Evidence #275 | November 29, 2021

Plates and Warfare

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Indian Copper Plate Inscriptions contain historical accounts of warfare, as does the Book of Mormon.

Nephi explained that while his smaller plates contained little detail concerning warfare, his larger plates included “a greater account of the wars and contentions and destructions” of his people (1 Nephi 19:4; see also 9:4; Jacob 3:13; Jarom 1:14). Many of such accounts made their way into Mormon’s final abridgment of Nephite history. Discoveries of metal records made since the Book of Mormon was published, some of which are of significant length and size, show that similar descriptions of warfare were inscribed on such materials by scribes of other cultures. For samples of such records, see the Appendix.

Conquest and Plunder

Warfare was a significant factor in the cultures of ancient and medieval India.1 This is reflected in the content of surviving copper plate inscriptions which describe the battles, conquests, violence, destruction, and plunder engaged in by rival kings and their armies. The Karandai Sangam Plates, a set of fifty-seven copper plates discovered toward the end of the nineteenth century, record that the Chōla king Rājarāja “having conquered by the strength of his arms the Simhala, Pandya, Kerala kings, the lords of Konkana (also) the Malavas, Andhras, Gangas, Kalingas, Vangas, (and) the Magadhas, the kings of Chalukyas, the Kuras and all others in battle, captured their elephants, horses, territories, diamonds and wealth.”2 This king “captured all that were won by the prowess of his (Satyāśraya’s) arms, the rutting elephants, horses, precious stones, women, and numerous umbrellas and the banners.”3

The same text recounts that the king’s son, prince Rājēndra, conquered Simhala (Ceylon), where he “captured in battle his [the enemy king’s] territory, his crown, his queen, and her crown, his daughter, his mass of properties, his vehicles and also the garland of Indra and the spotless crown of the Pāndya preserved by him (the Simhala king).”4

The Udayendiram Plates of Nandivarman Pallavamalla discovered in 1850 tell how another king defeated an enemy king in battle and “seized faultless pearly necklaces of excellent lustre, an immeasurable heap of gold, and elephants.”5 The Thiru Vindalur plates,6 a set of eighty-six copper plates discovered in 2010, tell how the Chola king “ransacked and pillaged the enormous wealth” of the Chālukya capital and “distributed the same among his war-fatigued associates; and made them happy and invigorated them all.”7 Plunder was, of course, a significant motivation for warfare in the Book of Mormon as well (Alma 17:14; Helaman 11:25; 3 Nephi 4:5).

Samples of the Udayendiram Plates. Image via whatisindia.com.

Destruction of Cities by Fire

Some copper plates from India describe the burning of conquered cities. The Thiru Vindalur plates indicate that the Chola king Rājādhirāja burned the conquered city of Kalyānapura and “made his pillar of victory in the form of the very high fire-flame that arose from the burning rampart of that city.”8 According to the Karandai Sangam Plates, the armies of King Rajendra Chola burned Manyakheta, the capital city of the Chalukya kingdom, resulting in “the ever-consuming flames of the terrible fire burning aloft from that city.”9 The writer, somewhat romantically, affirms “that great city was burning amidst thousands of series of flames of fire thrown by his army, the women, moving in the open spaces of high palatial residences inlaid with various jewels, appeared on account of the nets of smoke rising from the fire like the lightning moving frequently in the midst of groups of clouds.”10 Accounts of warfare in the Book of Mormon also mention the destruction of cities by fire (Mormon 5:5).

The Mallas defending the city of Kushinagara during a seige. Image via worldhistory.org.

Serious Bloodshed

Inscriptions also describe violence of warfare and the deaths of kings and their armies in battle. Some kings are described as being “cut to pieces” in battle.11 Deaths inflicted by arrows, swords, or clubs are described. The Larger Leiden Plates describe how Rajadtiya “having agitated in battle, the imperturbable Krishnaraja along with his army, with his sharp arrows falling in all directions, while (seated) on the back of an excellent elephant, had his heart split by the thrusts of his (Krishnaraja’s) sharp arrows.”12 This same text recounts how King Parantaka attacked the city of Chevura and “caused to flow manifold rivers of blood springing from the high mountains, i.e. the enemies’ elephants cut asunder by (his) sharp sword.”13

The carnage from animals used in battle is also mentioned with rhetorical flourish. The Malda Copper Plates, discovered in 1989, relate how one king “made his sword get wet with the blood oozing out of the pot like heads of the elephants of the enemy forces.”14 Another “took bath in the blood oozing out of the temples of the (enemy) elephants cut playfully and valorously by his sword before the sacrificial altar of battle with the sacred fire in the form of enemies were offered to the chanting of mantras.”15 The Book of Mormon also mentions the remains of animals after a serious conflict, although there is no direct indication that these animals were actually used in battle (Mosiah 8:8).

Medieval Indian War Elephants. Attribution unknown. 

Other texts recount the wounds suffered by human combatants, as does the Book of Mormon (Alma 43:44; 49:24; 57:25). During one battle, according to the Karandai Sangam plates, “while the army of the enemies was being destroyed by that king [Rājarāja] in battle not even a single person was seen anywhere without feet, thighs, stomach, chest, hands or head uncut.”16 Defeated enemy kings were sometimes decapitated. Rājarāja “cut off Bhogadeva’s head.”17 Another king, Aditya, is described in the Tiruvalangadu plates as “having deposited in his (capital) town the lofty pillar of victory (viz.,) the head of the Pāndya king” before he died.18

Comparable examples of decapitation in battle and reference to the practice of taking heads as trophies are found in the Book of Mormon (Ether 8:12; 9:5; 15:30). The same Indian text records that Rājarāja mercilessly put a rival king to death, saying, “Since Rajaraja, an expert in war, of the (same) name as myself, has been killed by a powerful club, I shall, therefore, kill that Andhra (king) called Bhima though (he may be) faultless.” After which he killed his captive with a mace.19 While some descriptions of warfare found on copper plates are brief, recent discoveries show that there were also longer descriptions as well. The Thiru Indalur plates devote eighty-six lines of text to an account of a war between the Chōla and the Chalukya (see Appendix to this Evidence Summary).20

Defeated Armies

The destruction of armies is also described in some texts. During a battle at the city of Kōllāpura, the Chōla army “massacred many army men of the enemy, and with their corpses and bloods he gave feast to the goblins there.”21 During another battle “the army of Rattaraja [was] hemmed in on all sides by the continuous downpour of arrows, (and) beleaguered by the heroes in the [enemy] army … was (completely) destroyed just as a range of clouds tossed about by the force of furious winds.”22 According to another text, the king Rājādhirāja “was killed by the Chālukya army by the downpour of arrows.”23

Defeated kings and soldiers from their armies are sometimes described as fleeing from the battlefield. The Baroda Copper Plates describe how Govindarāja defeated an opposing army. “The troop of elephants of his enemies which attacked him in battle were driven away by the many sharp swift arrows he shot at them, so that they imitated the continental mountains, swinging wildly in the winds that blow at the time of the destruction of the aeon.”24

Rajendra Chola in Battle, Kolaramma Temple. Image via Wikimedia Commons. 

“Madhurāntaka fought a highly terrible war of mighty elephants with the king Vallabha (the western Chālukya king Jayasimha). Unable to bear the heat of the fire of might of the Chōla, and his formidable army, the Chālukya Jayasimha flew away from the war-front and turned fugitive.”25 Another text recounts that after another battle “the rest of the enemy’s forces quickly sought refuge in forests and mountain-caves.”26 Such descriptions remind us of accounts in the Book of Mormon where combatants sometimes flee to or hide in the wilderness until they can gather their strength (Ether 14:3–7).


Although they date to much later than the time of the Book of Mormon, the copper plate inscriptions from medieval India demonstrate that significant historical accounts relating to warfare have indeed been recorded on metal plates. This material includes accounts of conquest, plunder, the burning of conquered cities, bloody battles, and the flight of defeated armies, some of which are found in accounts of significant length. The discovery and publication of such accounts, long after the publication of the Book of Mormon, help support the plausibility of similar military content being contained on the metal plates of the Nephite record.

Book of Mormon Central, “Are There Other Ancient Records Like the Book of Mormon? (Mormon 8:16),” KnoWhy 407 (February 13, 2018).

William J. Hamblin, “Sacred Writing on Metal Plates in the Ancient Mediterranean,” FARMS Review 19, no. 1 (2007): 37–54.

H. Curtis Wright, “Ancient Burials of Metal Documents in Stone Boxes,” in “By Study and Also By Faith”: Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley, 2 vols., ed. John M. Lundquist and Stephen D. Ricks (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1990), 273–334.

H. Curtis Wright, “Metallic Documents in Antiquity,” BYU Studies Quarterly, 10, no. 4 (1970): 457–477.

1 Nephi 9:41 Nephi 19:4Jacob 3:13Jarom 1:14Mosiah 8:8Alma 17:14Alma 43:44Alma 49:24Alma 57:25Helaman 11:253 Nephi 4:5Mormon 5:5Ether 8:12Ether 9:5Ether 14:3–7Ether 15:30

1 Nephi 9:4

1 Nephi 19:4

Jacob 3:13

Jarom 1:14

Mosiah 8:8

Alma 17:14

Alma 43:44

Alma 49:24

Alma 57:25

Helaman 11:25

3 Nephi 4:5

Mormon 5:5

Ether 8:12

Ether 9:5

Ether 14:3–7

Ether 15:30

The Chōla War with the Chālukya

The Thiru Indalur Copper Plates of Rājēndra Chōla II discovered in 2010 describe a lengthy war between the Chola and Chālukya kingdoms of medieval India during the reign of the Chola king Rājādhirāja (AD 1018–1054).27 The plates recount the death of Rājādhirāja in battle and the subsequent victory of his brother Rājēndra and his ascension to the throne. The record which originally contained 86 plates attached to a copper ring devoted eighty-six lines of text to an account of the war. A partial English translation of the text was published in 2011. Below are several selections from S. Sankaranarayanan’s translation of the Sanskrit portion of these plates.

The War with the Chālukya

Now the highly furious Rājādhirāja himself personally led the huge divisions of war-chariots, elephants, horses and foot soldiers; their war-cry was reverberated in the mountain caves. He entered Kalyāanapura, the capital city and abode of the Chālukya, by breaking open by his elephants the huge strong, stone-built rampart of that city; this act also broke the heart of the enemy. When the capital was thus attacked by the death-god-like merciless Rājādhirāja, his enemy, Jayasimha’s son (Chālukya Sōmēśvara I Ahavamalla) fled from there, just as the life-breath does from the physical body tortured by the death -god; and he became a fugitive no one was able to find where he had gone. Now the Chōla burnt that city, like Purāri (Lord Siva); he made his pillar of victory in the form of the very high fire-flame that arose from the burning rampart of that city; he ransacked and pillaged the enormous wealth of that city; distributed the same among his war-fatigued associates; and made them happy and invigorated them all. In the meanwhile the Andhra king (i.e. the Chālukya Sōmēśvara) collected his forces, and reappeared somewhere secretly and incited the Chōla king to restart the war. But the later fought vigorously and caused the enemy to run away again.

By way of chasing the enemy in a hot pursuit, the Chōla, commanding his army, crossed forests on the way, at times burnt down trees therein, scaled down the hills, camped by the side of flowing rivers, and thus caused much destruction to the enemy’s territory and reached Kōllāpura. That city is an auspicious one and it yields all good results one desires. There the Chōla massacred many army men of the enemy, and with their corpses and bloods he gave feast to the goblins there (Sankaranarayanan, 31–32).

The Death of Rājādhirāja

Hearing that doubly resounding war-cry of the Chālukya, inviting and provoking for fight, the Chōla too collected immediately his powerful army and returning with equal vigour the enemy’s war-cry, he directly met the army of the enemy. Now broke at the place called Koppam, a terrible battle between the two rivals, viz. the Chōla and the lord of the Rattarāshtra one, the Chōla, full of fury on seeing the enemy, who though was already vanquished, yet escaped; and the other, the Chālukya, doubly angry on account of his recent defeat at the hands of the Chōla .…28

In that pitched battle, the columns of foot soldiers, horses and elephants of the Chōla army fought terribly with their corresponding columns of the army of the enemy. Propelled by great anger, born of a sense of shame, because his recent defeat at the hands of the Chōla, the enemy fought quite ferociously and aggressively. The Chōla too, mounting upon his mighty, formidable elephant, fought very violently and like a forest-fire he burnt off columns of the enemy’s army. But alas! This forest fire seated on the back of the elephant was extinguished by the thick clouds of enemy army with their downpour of arrows (Sankaranarayanan, 33).

Rajendra’s Victory Over the Chālukya

The Chōla prince fought heroically, desiring to achieve victory. Every part of his body was filled with anger. At that juncture his sole helper in his fight was his powerful bow. He caused it to raise high sound as if provoking the enemy to fight. Those who saw the prince, showering arrows by his bow in an unimaginably high speed, were wonderstruck and were amazed with awe whether his bow, on its own, was issuing in a great speed, shower of arrows …

The furious Chōla sent his powerful arrow, struck down the white umbrella, the Chālukya royal insignia, of Ahavamalla. The moment the umbrella fell on the ground, the mighty elephant of the Chōla smashed it with its leg. The made the Chālukya very much unhappy. The Chālukya struck back with his powerful heavy arrows. But they did not have any noticeable effect on the Chōla prince. Thereupon the infuriated Chōla prince struck the enemy (the Chālukya) with swift moving arrows; and by a single arrow he broke, as if by play, the Chālukya’s bow and its string and also simultaneously broke his courage and his desire to fight. Then finally the Andhra king (Chālukya Ahavamalla) struck the Chōla prince at his heavily built strong right though with a heavily barbed missile (prāsa). Now Kumara (the Chōla prince) became furious, and took up his deadly śaki (spear) for breaking the hard chest of the Chālukya just as Kumara (god Skanda Karttikeya) took his śaki for breaking the Krauncha mountain. Then in great anger he brandished it in dreadful speed and struck it at the king of the Rattarāstra (the Chālukya) along with his elephant very severely, just as the furious flood of a river strikes down a tall tree, widely-rooted on its bank …

Thus ended the terrible war (Sankaranarayanan, 34–36).

Rjndra Becomes King

Now the Chōla prince got the entire wealth of the Chōla, already vast and huge, now amplified by the additional wealth of the Chālukya. Hence, he rejoiced just as the ocean does by receiving the already huge floods of the Ganga enhanced by the floods of the Yamunā. Then the triumphant Chōla prince marched back, with his army, and entered the Chōla capital, which was like the city of god and which was glittering with joy of the entire population. There this glorious warrior prince, the embodiment of the luck of all his subjects, was anointed for protecting the earth as per law, by elderly Vedic scholars by pouring on him the holy waters brought by many chieftains from all the oceans, sacred rivers and lakes. He wore on his head the brilliant gem-ruby-studded crown that had been inherited by the family, down the ages; and the other royal insignia like śvētachchhatra (ceremonial white umbrella), sitachāmara (stately white fly-wisk) etc. were offered to him. He was seated on the highly glittering throne of the Chōla family; he had all the splendours of the vast kingdom; he was being praised by the intellectuals; now this prince was endowed with the name (coronation name) Rājēndradēva by the kings prostrating before him with their glittering crowns on their heads touching the ground. Thus, he became the (real) owner of the entire Chōla empire, that had come to him. Now he had become a superpower, all kings acknowledged his overlordship of the whole earth surrounded by oceans (Sankaranarayanan, 39).

  • 1 P. Chakravarti, The Art of War in Ancient India (Ramna, Dacca: University of Dacca, 1941); V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, War in Ancient India (Madras: Macmillan and Co., 1944).
  • 2 K. G. Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India, 79 (New Dehli: Director-General, Archaeological Survey of India, 1984),196.
  • 3 Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” 197.
  • 4 Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” 199.
  • 5 E. Hultzsch, “Udayendiram Plates of Nandivarum Pallavamalla,” South Indian Inscriptions, volume 2, Part 3 (1895): 372.
  • 6 Shyam Ranganathan, “Chola Copper Plates to be Exhibited at Tamil Meet,” The Hindu, June 18, 2010.
  • 7 S. Sankaranarayanan, N. Marxia Gandhi, A. Padmavathy, R. Sivanantham, eds., Tiruvindalur Copper Plate (Chenai: Tamilnadu State Department of Archaeology, 2011), 32.
  • 8 Sankaranarayanan, et al., Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 32.
  • 9 Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” 199.
  • 10 Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” 199.
  • 11 Rao Sahib and H. Krishna Sastri, “The Tiruvalangadu Copper-Plates of the Sixth Year of Rajendra-Chola I,” in South Indian Inscriptions, 3, Part 3 (1920): 423.
  • 12 K. V. Subrahmanya Aiyer, “The Larger Leiden Plates (Of Rajaraja I),” Epigraphia Indica 22 (1933–1934): 256.
  • 13 Aiyer, “The Larger Leiden Plates (Of Rajaraja I),” 256.
  • 14 K. V. Ramesh and S. Subramonia Iyer, “Malda District Museum Copper Plate Charter of Mahēndrapāladēva, Year 7,” Epigraphia Indica 42 (1992): 25.   25.
  • 15 Ramesh and Iyer, “Malda District Museum Copper Plate Charter of Mahēndrapāladēva, Year 7,” 28.
  • 16 Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” 197.
  • 17 Krishnan, “Karandai Tamil Sangam Plates of Rajendrachola I,” 197.
  • 18 Sahib and Sastri, “The Tiruvalangadu Copper-Plates of the Sixth Year of Rajendra-Chola I,” 420.
  • 19 Sahib and Sastri, “The Tiruvalangadu Copper-Plates of the Sixth Year of Rajendra-Chola I,” 421.
  • 20 Sankaranarayanan, Gandhi, Padmavathy, Sivanantham, Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 31–39.
  • 21 Sankaranarayanan, Gandhi, Padmavathy, Sivanantham, Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 32. The translator uses the term “goblins” to refer to evil demons who were understood in Hindu mythology to delight in blood sacrifices.
  • 22 Sahib and Sastri, “The Tiruvalangadu Copper-Plates of the Sixth Year of Rajendra-Chola I,” 424.
  • 23 Sankaranarayanan, Gandhi, Padmavathy, Sivanantham, Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 33.
  • 24 Richard Salomon, Indian Epigraphy: A Guide to the Study of Inscriptions in Sanskrit, Prakrit, and the Other Indo-Aryan Languages (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998), 292.
  • 25 Sankaranarayanan, et al., Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 21.
  • 26 Sahib and Sastri, “The Tiruvalangadu Copper-Plates of the Sixth Year of Rajendra-Chola I,” 424.
  • 27Sankaranarayanan, Gandhi, Padmavathy, Sivanantham, Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 31–39. For an historical overview of the Chōla dynasty see K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, The Cōlas, Second edition (Madras: University of Madras, 1955).
  • 28 Here Sankaranarayanan for purposes of brevity omits seven verses from the text which “describe the details of how the different army columns of both rival sides fought.” Sankaranarayanan, Gandhi, Padmavathy, Sivanantham, Tiruvindalur Copper Plate, 33.
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